In just a couple of years, Urbana is expected to have a new outdoor aquatic center at Crystal Lake Park.
There's been talk about building a new outdoor pool in Urbana ever since Crystal Lake pool closed in 2008. Voters that year rejected a 25-cent property tax increase that would have helped fund a new outdoor aquatic center. But on Tuesday night, voters backed an 11-cent property tax increase supporting one.
The Urbana Park District's Executive Director Vicki Mayes credits the success of this year's referendum to outreach for the project.
"The money in the taxes that people will pay will be right here in this community, and it will benefit them directly," she said. "So, it's something that they wanted, and it's something that they really would be willing to pay for."
The property tax increase will provide enough funds for the park district to sell and pay back bonds to finance the project's construction and maintenance.
The new aquatic center priced at $7.725 million will include three pools - one that's shallow, one that's deeper, and one reserved for fitness. It will be built where Crystal Lake pool once operated. The design for the center begins this spring, and it is expected to open sometime in 2013.
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access. He reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
(English language voice over by Jenn Kloc)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey and A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer brushed back three challengers to his office on Election Day, winning with 42% of the vote.
Eisenhauer beat Vermilion County Board member James "Mouse" McMahon, who received 34%. Rickey Williams Junior received 13% of the vote, followed by David Quick with 10%.
Eisenhauer says he was overwhelmed to see the support he got in his third bid for mayor. He says it was good to see that "although the community certainly doesn't like everything you do as mayor ,they at least have confidence in our team to appreciate what we've done for eight years, and more importantly the confidence that we've been moving the city in the right direction and will continue to do that over the course of next four years."
new aldermen will join the City Council under Eisenhauer, including longtime State Representative Bill Black, who retired from his post late last year. He soundly defeated incumbent 7th ward alderman Ron Candido. Kevin Davis, Michael O'Kane and Thomas Stone won seats, joining victorious incumbents Rick Strebing and Jon Cooper. City Treasurer Linda Monson defeated challenger Carol Nichols.
University of Illinois employee Don Gerard will become the next mayor of Champaign, defeating three-term incumbent and retired police officer Jerry Schweighart.
Gerard picked up 51% of the vote in a race that at times had turned testy over budget issues and campaign funding.
"It's all been a process of being prepared. To see it to fruition is just remarkable," Gerard said after his win. "I think it's a real testament to our team and to the community. People really got out and supported us and worked really hard. I think we had a lot of numbers pushed up in a lot of different places, and I think we really made a statement."
Speaking by phone after the vote count, Schweighart blamed lack of union support and very low turnout in Champaign, which he called "pathetic."
When asked if he had any words of advice for the new mayor, Schweighart responded, "He's smarter than I am. I'll let him figure it out."
There was also one Champaign City Council seat left open by resignation -- state economic development official Paul Faraci has won that seat, defeating two other write-in candidates. Faraci received 787 votes to Cathy Emanuel's 518 and James McGuire's 415.
Just hours to go before polls close, the Brookens Center in Urbana lost power, but power has now been restored.
On his Twitter page, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said all election operations after 7 PM will occur at Brokens as planned. For a short time, Hulten had said the outage may affect the release of unofficial results, but that doesn't appear to be the case anymore.
Ameren has not yet released a cause for the outage.
The head of Caterpillar says the company intends to stay in Illinois while working with the governor to improve the state's business climate.
CEO Doug Oberhelman met with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn today to discuss a letter he recently sent Quinn. It warned that other states were trying to lure his company away because Illinois increased its income tax rate on corporations and individuals.
The Peoria-based company has more than 23,000 employees in Illinois.
Quinn says he understands Illinois must do more to improve its economy and image. He is seeking to overhaul the workers' compensation system and encourage the greater export of Illinois goods.
Oberhelman has agreed to serve on a council that will try to strengthen the export business.
Rod Blagojevich asked a judge Monday to order prosecutors to hand over written summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama about the ousted Illinois governor's corruption case.
That raises the prospect that Blagojevich could try to make the president a prominent feature of his defense at his upcoming retrial.
Judges are traditionally averse to drawing sitting presidents into trials, however. And Judge James Zagel, who will preside over Blagojevich's retrial starting later this month, has repeatedly said Obama has no direct bearing on the allegations, which include that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case by anyone, including the defense. But Blagojevich's attorneys have argued before that Obama could help demonstrate that their client never did anything criminal but merely engaged in legal, political wheeling and dealing.
"I haven't seen any argument Obama has anything to bring to the table in this trial," said David Morrison, a deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform who has followed the case closely. "I think Blagojevich has been desperate to drag Obama into this for years now, and this motion is just the latest gambit."
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges, including allegations that he tried to exchange an appointment to Obama's seat for a top job or campaign cash. Jurors at his first trial deadlocked on all but one count, convicting him on a lone count of lying to the FBI.
Monday's request came in a motion filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, saying written accounts of any Obama interviews could "go directly to the heart of testimony of several government witnesses," particularly union leader and Obama ally Tom Balanoff.
U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn declined any comment on the motion.
Zagel had rejected a similar motion before Blagojevich's first trial. Unlike the motion last year, Monday's filing does not ask for permission to call Obama as a witness - an idea Zagel also shot down.
The new motion zeros in on Balanoff, a key government witness. He testified at the first trial that Obama called him on the eve of the 2008 election, telling Balanoff he preferred that family friend Valerie Jarrett work in the White House but that she wanted to be senator.
"I thanked him and I said I was going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich and speak on Valerie's behalf," Balanoff testified.
Defense attorneys claim Balanoff's testimony about the call appeared to contradict some other accounts and that notes of any FBI interviews with Obama could clarify the issue.
Balanoff's testimony is potentially damaging to Blagojevich. On the witness stand last year, Balanoff also told jurors he was startled when, in discussing Jarrett's interest in the seat with Blagojevich, the then-governor broached the possibility of becoming secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration.
He took Blagojevich's reference as an offer to trade one for the other.
"I understood him to be offering that, `Hey, if I got this appointment (as a Cabinet secretary), then I could see my way to appoint Valerie Jarrett,'" Balanoff said.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, Balanoff conceded that Blagojevich never said explicitly he wanted to trade the appointment to the seat for a top job.
Zagel has repeatedly denied defense moves that could put a spotlight on Obama. In a sidebar last year, for example, Sorosky told Zagel he wanted to ask Balanoff if the FBI focused its questions on Obama rather than Blagojevich when agents interviewed Balanoff.
"I think we have a right to bring that out," Sorosky told the judge.
"No, you don't," Zagel shot back.
That sidebar conversation last year was out of earshot of the jury, spectators and journalists in court, but official trial transcripts released later included it.
Monday's motion leaves open the option of the defense again asking for permission to subpoena Obama. Some legal observers say judges are reluctant to put presidents on the stand, in part, because the spectacle could throw proceedings into disarray.
"It would be a circus," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago-based attorney who frequently represents clients in federal court. "The whole focus of the trial would switch."
The decorative tip of the Champaign County Courthouse is hanging by a cable from the ornate tower.
Sometime either Sunday or Monday, a four-foot piece of the spire disconnected from its base atop the courthouse clock tower, which was completed just two years ago as part of a $1.2 million restoration project.
Sheriff Dan Walsh says one lane of Urbana's Main Street as well as the adjoining sidewalk and closed for safety reasons -- and as a preparation for repair work tomorrow (Tues).
"There's supposed to be a crane in here if things go well, and people will be looking at it including engineers, so we'll have a better idea about what's going to happen and how quick and all that," Walsh said. "But until they actually look at it, anything that could happen would be a guess."
Walsh says the copper piece of spire is attached by a 1-inch thick cable to the rest of the tower.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says Libyan rebels should be given weapons to help them quickly overthrow Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
The Illinois Republican says furnishing weapons will help end the Libyan war and limit costs for the United States and its allies.
Kirk told reporters Friday that conflicts should be rough and violent if that's what it takes to achieve a quick victory.
"When you're in a conflict, make it rough make it violent, so that it is over quickly," said the Senator. "If we win this war as fast as possible it will cost less. It will create less turmoil in the Arab world and it will calm international economies."
NATO and some nations say an arms embargo rules out providing weapons to the Libyan rebels. But President Barack Obama's administration suggests arming them might be an option.
Kirk also says the United States should recognize the rebels as the legitimate representatives of Libya's people, as France has done.
A quick look at the state's overall economy shows improvement from the recession, but at a painstakingly slow pace.
The author of the monthly University of Illinois Flash Index says March marked the 11th consecutive month of improvement at 96.3, up two-tenths of a point from a month earlier. Anything below 100 still indicates a decline.
U of I economist Fred Giertz cites a January unemployment rate, both statewide and nationally - of 8.9 percent, as well as job growth in the private sector. But Giertz says Illinois is still a long way from where it wants to be, noting the difference between the current recession and those of recent years.
"It was also accompanied by a financial panic," he said. "A lot of people have noted those kind of situations, which occur very rarely, are also much more difficult to recover from. So we're not going to bounce back the way we did in 2001 or 1990."
The flash index is made up of individual and corporate tax receipts through the end of the month. Giertz says the tax hike passed by the legislature in January presented a challenge for him. He says those numbers had to be adjusted to reflect the overall economy, and not solely the higher rates. "So the fact is once you do that, the growth is a whole lot slower than you might think by just looking at the numbers themselves." said Giertz.
Because corporations file tax returns at different times, Giertz says it will take some time before the impact of the tax increase is fully realized.